Online Catalog Creation

Copyright © 2007 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in April 2007, Volume 32, No. 10 of The Engravers Journal
Tropar Manufacturing's (Florham Park, NJ) on-line dealer catalog (www.airflytecatalog.com) includes many popular features such as wide selection, easy navigation, enlargeable images, retail pricing and detailed specifications.

     Most award professionals are familiar with the slick, glossy retail award catalogs that have been around for many decades. These printed catalogs, provided by award manufacturers and wholesalers, offer a cost-effective way for retailers to show their customers the various types of awards available.
     The beauty of these printed catalogs for retailers is the fact that wholesalers and manufacturers incur the huge cost of creating these highly professional catalogs. They also provide a space on the catalog cover for retailers to personalize it with their own business name. Some of these suppliers even offer two catalogs—one with “retail” pricing and one with wholesale (net) pricing.
     For the benefit of newcomers to the industry, dealer catalogs utilizing retail pricing generally set the “retail” prices at three times the dealer cost. In other words, if an item’s retail catalog price were $15 (the cost to retail customers) then the net cost for a dealer to purchase that item would be $5. The other nice feature found within retail dealer catalogs is that they don’t include the wholesale manufacturer’s name. The idea is for the retailer to include their own name so that customers are contacting them as opposed to the manufacturers.
     While these print catalogs are still effective and quite useful for in-store customers, what about the online customer? Since more and more people are shopping online for products and services, wouldn’t it be great to provide a catalog for those customers, too? Well, you can! And the best part is you don’t have to do it all by yourself! Some of the same companies that provide retailers with printed dealer catalogs are now offering a variety of online catalog services as well.
What Services Are Available?
     Several wholesalers and manufacturers provide assistance to award dealers interested in creating their own website or expanding an existing site to include online catalogs. Depending on the company, these services can range from simply providing images and online catalog links to more advanced offerings such as website templates, personalized frames and even made-to-order websites with shopping cart software and “Build-A-Trophy” capabilities. By taking advantage of these services, you could save the time it would take to learn to do them on your own or the money it would cost to hire a professional web designer to do them for you.

 
 
  Acrylic Idea Factory, Norcross, GA, offers a wide selection of awards and more on its website at www.acrylicidea.com.  

Some Definitions Please
     Website creation has its own lingo and although you’ll have help creating your online catalogs, you should be aware of some basic terminology.
     Link—A “link” (sometimes called a hypertext link) is an Internet address usually attached with a picture—in this case a catalog cover—that is placed on a website. A link, when clicked on with a mouse, takes viewers to a different website address. For example, customers who access a dealer’s website could click on a link and it would take them directly to a supplier’s online catalog. It may or may not look to the customer like they are accessing the catalog from the dealer’s website. It is possible to have several links on your website to different supplier websites.
     Frames—Frames are a technique used in designing webpages to divide the webpage into multiple windows. For example, you can have a stationary frame with clickable choices on the left side of the screen that remains visible even while a viewer scrolls through text and pictures on the right side of the screen. Each window is called a frame and can contain its own separate page. Frames can be bordered or seamless. Seamless frames have no visible borders and can make a webpage look more professional since the page isn’t as chopped up into fixed boxes as it is with bordered frames. Typically in a frame, your customer will not “leave” your website but they will have access to suppliers’ catalogs while your name and contact information remain visible.
     Template—A template is a pre-made webpage without content, similar to a greeting card template that allows you to add whatever text and images you’d like. Templates simplify website development because they offer site navigation while allowing you to concentrate on creating content for the page.
     Downloadable Images—Downloadable images are digital computer files of photos, logos, artwork, etc. For the purpose of this article, they might include a single item or several pages from a catalog. These images can be sent to you through e-mail, mailed to you on a disc and can sometimes be downloaded directly from a file on the supplier’s website.
     Shopping Cart Software—Shopping cart software is a program that provides the tools necessary for customers to make purchases directly from a retailer’s website. It captures the customer’s desired selections and credit card information on a secured site, allowing them to conveniently and securely place online orders from your store.
Who provides these services?
     Most of the award industry’s major suppliers who offer pre-printed dealer catalogs are more than happy to provide retailers with help when it comes to setting up their websites and adding online catalogs. That’s because those same suppliers realize this will indirectly benefit their own sales as more and more people from all over the world do their searching and shopping via the Internet. The following section will provide a glimpse into what’s available in online catalog resources.
     Acrylic Idea Factory (AIF)—Acrylic Idea Factory is the world’s largest manufacturer of acrylic awards. Founded in 1948, AIF offers a complete line of beautifully designed and affordable awards, from coaching and team sports awards to the most prestigious corporate awards. The company’s website address is www.acrylicidea.com.
     AIF offers several resources to customers looking to create or upgrade their websites, including online catalog links, downloadable images in both high and low resolution sizes and online catalog assistance. Byron Dreher, art director for AIF, says most of their customers already have pre-existing websites so they don’t offer assistance with setting up new websites, nor do they offer shopping cart software. They do, however, offer online links to two catalogs and will assist retailers in adding these links to a website. Though the product items in these two catalogs are identical, one has retail pricing and the other has no pricing at all. These links do have the AIF name, but no contact information is included. Customers are directed back to the retailer’s website for ordering information.
     AT Designs—AT Designs is reported to be North America’s leading manufacturer of medallic custom awards and promotional products. In business for over 30 years, AT has two fully self-contained manufacturing facilities in North America, one in Asia and its newest one in Australia.
     AT Designs offers a personalized “frames” version of its corporate website to all of its customers. This free website includes your company name, address and all of AT’s catalog pages. There is no reference to AT Designs or links to its wholesale website included on the dealer’s site. “We replace our corporate information with the retailer’s information in the header,” says Bob D’Andrade, director of Marketing and Sales for AT Designs, “making the website look like it’s the dealer’s own.”
     There are a couple of ways to use AT’s frames, according to D’Andrade. “The distributor or award store can either have their own web address and use (our frames) as one of many links offered to their clients,” he says, “or (our frames) can become the sole link or website offered to their customers for display of awards and recognition products.” An example of what a website looks like using AT Designs’ frames can be found at http://www.factory-support.com/EagleEye/.
     D’Andrade says most beginners who are creating their first website tend to use AT’s frames as their primary website. More experienced online retailers with fully developed websites of their own tend to include several product lines on their sites, providing a wider selection of merchandise for customers. For these retailers, AT supplies “watermarked” downloadable images that they can use in whatever format or layout they desire.
     AT Designs provides online catalog setup (using their frames version), which typically takes about 48 hours to complete. To accomplish this task, communication is required between the retailer and AT Designs, either by phone or e-mail, so that each website is customized to the business. According to AT Designs’ website, located at www.atdesigns.com, “There are no delays, no confusing registrations or technical hassles, no need to learn how to build a website, no need to go looking for a web designer AND no cost.”
     AT Designs does not provide shopping cart software at this time because, according to D’Andrade, their awards are totally custom designs and there are too many options to easily commit to a shopping cart style. It is something they are working on, though.

Plastic Dress-Up Co., South El Monte, CA, offers a wide selection of awards and more on its online catalog at www.pdu.com.

     Classic Medallics—Classic Medallics began in 1940 as a manufacturer of medallic religious jewelry under the name of Frederick Singer & Sons. “In the late 1950s,” according to the company’s website at www.classic-medallics.com, “the Singer family saw a golden opportunity to bring it’s manufacturing and design experience to the rapidly growing award industry, which at that time was just beginning to adopt production methods to mass-produce awards. Classic Medallics quickly became one of the leaders and innovators in developing a wide variety of quality medallic products (medals and medallions), mass-produced at affordable prices.” Today, Classic Medallics continues to offer all types of medallics as well as an extensive line of corporate awards.
     To help dealers create online catalogs, Classic Medallics offers links to its newly renovated website as well as downloadable images and online catalog assistance. They don’t offer help with website creation because Classic Medallics President Jerry Singer says it has been his experience that retailers want to create their own websites using a combination of products and pages from several different suppliers.
     Classic Medallics does help retailers when it comes to adding its online catalog links to a dealer’s website. It also provides instructions for including downloadable images that can be obtained online or by a disc in either DVD or CD format.
     Plastic Dress-Up (PDU)—Plastic Dress-Up is reported to be the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic awards. Although PDU’s original focus was its extensive line of plastic trophy figures, today the company offers all kinds of awards and components.
     PDU has two programs to help retail dealers develop online resources for customers. One program provides links to PDU’s online catalogs for those with an existing website while the other offers help with setting up new websites.
     According to Cathy Garcia, director of product development for Plastic Dress-Up, PDU provides catalog links to retailers that offer sports and corporate awards. These catalogs can be linked to a retailer’s website with a code provided by PDU. Each catalog includes Suggested Retail Pricing and Bill of Materials information (for each assembled part in each catalog). In addition, both high- and low-resolution images of all products are available for printing or downloading to a website.
     Besides the links and downloadable images, PDU offers award retailers a turnkey website solution called Web Connect. This is a licensed program that costs the retailer an annual fee. “The retailer purchases a license from PDU, provides a domain name and then receives an entire made-to-order website,” says Garcia.
     Each Web Connect site offers the “Build-A-Trophy” feature, allowing customers to create their own custom trophies right online. Customers can also pay for the trophies online with shopping cart software included in the Web Connect program. The retailer receives a Bill of Materials for each order placed, making it easier to order parts and build the exact trophies that customers have ordered. For more information on these programs, visit www.pdu.com and www.pduwebconnect.com.
     Plastic-Plus Awards—Plastic-Plus Awards has been in business for over 20 years and claims to be the fastest, most dependable component supplier in the award and engraving industry, according to its website at www.plasticplus.com. With nine warehouses (and more to come), Plastic-Plus prides itself on next day and second day delivery of its products in most U.S. locations. Plastic-Plus is also the largest Plastic Dress-Up (PDU) distributor in the southern United States.
     Plastic-Plus offers online catalog links for its customers’ websites. Some of the retail catalogs offered include the PDU Retail Sports Catalog (www.sport-catalog.com), PDU Retail Corporate Catalog (www.corp-catalog.com) and the Victory Retail Corporate Catalog (www.recognizingexcellence.com). For more information or instructions on how to include these links on your website, contact Plastic-Plus Awards or visit their website.
     Tropar Manufacturing Company—Tropar, which started in 1959, is reported to be the world’s largest manufacturer of corporate awards, which includes all types of items from plaques and clocks to acrylics and many patented or copyrighted designs. According to the company, its trademarked Airflyte brand name is so well known that buyers often request their products by name. Tropar’s master catalog boasts more than 600 plaques, clocks, acrylic awards and specialty trophies that are shipped out of four U.S. warehouses and distributed by more than 5,000 dealers throughout the United States.
     According to Tropar Marketing Manager Peter Ilaria, Tropar offers customizable website frames that allow dealers to link to its catalog site and keep the name and contact information of the dealer in front of the customer while navigating the Tropar site.
     “We’ve designed our retail dealer site, www.airflytecatalog.com, so it looks to web-browsing customers like they’ve never left the retailer’s website,” Ilaria says, adding that these frames are downloadable from the above-mentioned website.
     Besides the customizable frames, Tropar also offers links to its website, downloadable images and website templates. These resources are also available in its password-protected dealer area. Tropar does not offer shopping cart software, website set-up or online catalog assistance at this time, but company representatives are available to answer any questions retailers may have.
     Some other award manufacturers that offer online catalog links and assistance include JDS Industries, Marco Awards Group and Medalcraft Mint. JDS offers downloadable images of all items shown on its website as well as one of two separate links to its website: one that specializes in corporate awards at www.corpawds.com and another that specializes in sports awards at www.sportawds.com. Marco Awards Group provides assistance to retailers who need help developing their websites. They also supply images and provide a link that allows customers to view Marco’s catalog. Medalcraft Mint also supplies photos and assists customers with setting up websites.
What Do Award Dealers Have To Say About Online Catalogs?
    
While printed catalogs are still widely used today, the number of customers that search and shop for awards online has increased tremendously in recent years. That’s why many dealers are creating websites that offer online catalogs of their own or direct links to their suppliers’ catalogs. It takes some time and most likely even some cash on the dealer’s end to create a website or improve upon their existing website to offer these online catalogs, but most of the following retailers who have made that investment say they’re happy with the results. Here is what some dealers are saying.
    
HJ Trophies & Awards, Inc.—implemented its website, www.hjtrophy.com, about eight years ago and, according to Gini DeWolf, co-owner of HJ Trophies with her husband Rick, they have utilized online catalogs “right from the start.”
    
When first developing their website, DeWolf says they tried to do it on their own. “We soon realized if you wanted it to look professional, you needed professional help,” she said.
    
HJ’s website homepage includes links to Tropar Manufacturing Company, R.S. Owens, Acrylic Idea Factory (AIF) and Plastic Dress-Up (PDU), as well as its own Recognition Roundtable catalog. It also has several links to other suppliers on the Promotional Products Page.
    
When asked if any of these companies assisted them in developing online catalog links, DeWolf says they were all helpful, but she cautions newcomers: “You have to make sure you link to an end-user version of the catalog and not a supplier version,” she said, “or else you could end up sending your customer to a local competitor.”
    
DeWolf says they’re satisfied with the results of their online catalogs. “It makes it easy for our customers to look at products without leaving their office,” she said, but adds they are often on the phone with customers as they browse through the “virtual showroom” to answer any questions.




     According to DeWolf, HJ Trophies didn’t receive help from any of its suppliers while setting up their shopping cart. “We are in the process of redesigning our shopping cart now to enable our customers to buy more products online,” she said. “Eventually, customers will be able to buy any of the items we choose to put on our website database. None of our suppliers offer customers the ability to purchase products directly from their catalog links without contacting us first. It would be nice if suppliers could help in that regard,” adds DeWolf.
    
HJ Trophies honors all pricing from the catalogs on its website, says DeWolf, but she says the new shopping cart software will state that engraving and setup charges may apply. “We’ve also included a feature for customers to add or download text for engraving,” she said.
    
R & W Engraving, Inc.—developed its website at www.rwengraving.com in 2001 according to Roger Bastarache, co-owner along with his wife Joanne. And like HJ Trophies, R & W included online catalogs with its website right from the start.
    
Although they hired a professional to develop their site and create the online catalogs, R & W Engraving also had some help from its suppliers. “They all had a hand in helping us with some aspect of it,” said Roger Bastarache.
    
The companies R & W Engraving utilizes for its award and recognition online catalogs include Tropar Manufacturing Company, Glass Graphics, Time Frame, JDS Industries, Plastic Dress-Up (PDU), Hub Pen, Image Award Ribbons and Speedy Line, “With more to come,” Bastarache says.
    
For the most part, Bastarache says he is satisfied with his company’s online catalogs, but adds they are working with some of the suppliers to minimize the download times of their webpages. “Others need to match up the online part numbers with their in-store catalog part numbers in order to compare one to the other,” he notes.
    
R & W Engraving has relied, for the most part, on its webmaster to include shopping cart software for the awards and recognition portion of the business, although they had some help from vendors outside of awards and recognition. When asked how they handle online pricing, Bastarache says it’s basically the same as the in-store catalog prices. “We do add engraving charges and shipping charges when necessary, though,” he adds.
    
The Trophy House, Inc.—Jimmy Keefe, president of The Trophy House, Inc., says his website was strictly informational for about the first two years. He upgraded to a fully functional e-commerce website in 2004. The Trophy House website, located at www.thetrophyhouseinc.com, is an example of a website built solely by professionals, but Keefe says it wasn’t without some frustration. “We hired many so-called professionals and went through a lot of people before we found a web designer that we were happy with,” he said. “I’ll bet we went through 8-10 designers before that.”
    
The Trophy House doesn’t use supplier links (or frames) with its online catalogs, and Keefe says they have taken nearly all of the pictures on the website themselves. “We have a few pictures from online catalogs, but in the end, we found that we needed to take our own pictures to make the site work the way we wanted it to,” he said. “We invested in a light box system to take the pictures about a year or two ago and it has worked out pretty well.”
    
Keefe feels that the online catalog sites are good for displaying the awards, but adds there’s still a need for communication between the store and the customer. “Our website is primarily geared toward a specific customer; a solid core customer base of military personnel,” he said. “Buying a product online can be a bit time consuming for our customers because it’s not something that is easily handled by a generic online catalog.” That’s why The Trophy House limits its online purchase choices to its most popular products.
     Since The Trophy House used professional web designers to create its website, there was no need to seek help from suppliers for its online shopping cart. Although Keefe is happy with the way his company’s newly revamped website has turned out, he says a lot of time and money went into its creation. When asked if any of his suppliers helped in the development of his online catalog, he said, “No, but if that service were available, I would be interested.”
Further Thoughts About Online Catalogs
    
As you can see, there is help available when it comes to adding online catalogs to your website, but keep in mind that these generic catalogs may not work for every dealer in every situation. Certain niche stores like The Trophy House have special needs that can’t be met by suppliers’ online catalogs.
    
Another thought about using online supplier catalogs is that there may be some crossover of products from one catalog to another. When using more than one supplier catalog on your website, you should be aware that some products may be duplicated. Several retailers we spoke to while researching this article suggested that it’s ok to link to a number of online catalogs, but it’s best to carefully select those you use. For example, a good combination might be to have a variety of product-specialized sites: one for corporate awards, another for medallic products and another for promotional products, etc.
    
You don’t want to overload your site with too many links and downloaded photos because it may overwhelm the customer. Be selective. Limit the number of catalogs you offer and make sure the photos you download to your site are at a high enough resolution to match those in your online catalog links.
    
How important is “shopping cart” software for the average dealer? That seems to be situation dependant. Tropar’s Peter Ilaria says, “It’s important for each dealer to analyze his or her own needs and sales patterns. Shopping carts are important for anyone interested in ‘e-commerce’ where retail buyers need to order online, however, that’s not how many of our customers operate.
    
“Many orders originate online but are ultimately written over the phone. After all,” he continues, “there are a lot of order-related issues—especially in the corporate award market—where you are dealing with getting logos and artwork, composing engraving messages, calculating personalization charges, etc. This is not easy to deal with using a shopping cart approach unless the dealer changes his or her approach to sales and pricing.”
    
For this reason and others, Ilaria advises dealers not to spend too much money developing websites unless they are really moving heavily into Internet sales. Thankfully, that’s one of the advantages to having access to suppliers’ on-line dealer catalogs. Most of the catalogs, frames, templates, downloadable images and other on-line resources discussed here are available (to the suppliers’ customers) free of charge. The only cost for using them is the time and web development expense required to incorporate them into your website.
    
Although there are some caveats to the online catalog creation process, your suppliers are ready and willing to lend a helping hand. We’ve mentioned just a few of them here, but don’t hesitate to call all of your suppliers to solicit their help. They have a wealth of information and the resources available to help you build and grow your business online!    

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